My quest to synthesonize Ableton Live has taken an exciting new turn. Last Sunday, we discovered that by micing The Bells at the Central Park School Soundgarden, I can run that sound through Ableton and into the various synth modules and FX racks I am building. What happens is that the Abeju Synth Modules and FX Racks capture most of the harmonics that arise from Eleanor’s bell playing. The harmonics can be shaped by envelopes and attenuation and, of course, granular synthesis. My goal is to gradually shape the bell harmonics into a watery stream sound. This will be part of the soundscape for The Place ReSounds of Water (TPRSW) on April 14th at 4pm for SITES Season 2018-19.
When iBoD first started playing with The Bells, I recorded and analyzed their harmonic content. These bells are former compressed air tanks with the bottoms cut off, so the metal is not pure, it is some kind of alloy. This translates to lots of harmonic AND enharmonic content! A pure metal would render more pure harmonics. These pure harmonics are pretty, often beautiful, but my ear grows tired of the stasis of it all. The idea of purity in all of its forms is an illusion that leads to much misunderstanding and anguish in the world. Think about what striving for purity has given us: genocides, fascism, chronic autoimmune diseases, disconnection from and attempts to conquer nature, diminished empathy, and on and on. It is my prayer that riding and faithfully playing All the en/harmonic waveforms will encourage evolutionary growth. That is what I am going for!
TPRSW is my first attempt to sync up with the National Water Dance. My timing is off as this is not the year for National Water Dance, however I am hoping this will kickoff some interest for 2020. The idea for TPRSW is to give prolonged loving attention to water in the form of sound, light and the liquid itself. The soundscape will consist of Eleanor Mills playing The Bells, dejacusse aka Jude Casseday capturing and playing the en/harmonic waves from The Bells and morphing them into a watery feeling soundbed. Then Susanne Romey will play Native American flute over that for a while, then we start the wave again. The movers will pour water from vessel to vessel. An altar of flowers may be built. The whole thing is a mystery.
Our location at the Soundgarden at Central Park School gets full afternoon sun, so the visuals might include sparkles and shimmers of water. We could be lit up! If it is overcast, the air will be moist and the sounds of water will carry more clearly. If it threatens rain on Sunday, we will do it on Saturday instead! Or, perhaps, we will figure something else out and perform as it rains.
Glenna Batson is back in town and we have started a monthly Human Origami Jam at ADF Studios on Broad Street in Durham. Join us this Friday, February 15th for an exploration guided by the foldings of cells – the building blocks of nature. While Glenna guides you through a macroscopic to microscopic sense of the cell, dejacusse will sculpt sonic forms in the atomosphere of the room. The soundscape will swath you in harmonics, whispers, bounce and back to the ambient sound of the room. Sound as water is my theme, and since cells are mostly made of water…
During a trip to Washington D.C. in 2017, granddaughter Jahniya purchased a silver necklace from the International Spy Museum gift shop. The necklace is the word “strength” in Morse Code with round beads for the dots and longer tube beads for the dashes. When she showed me the necklace, I saw the dots and dashes as stabs and long tones and began wondering about soundscapes with words and phrases spelled out in Morse Code.
This idea is a perfect companion to TRIC Questions, and my interest in using overlapping “predeterminded” sound articulation patterns in music. Morse Code is also a way to imbed words into soundscapes. People seem to prefer music with words. We like a story, an image and the sound of the human voice. For me, the singer and the words hijack a large percent of the ear brain in any listening situation. That is why I prefer my music sans words – let the instruments convey the narrative. Since 70% of meaning is derived from the non-verbal components of speech, including cadence and tonality, then music should be capable of conveying information/meaning quite effectively. Morse Code brings a verbal aspect into the soundscape without words taking over the show.
Here is the simple instruction sheet for creating Morse Code:
This will be my idiosyncratic metric template. The time signature is open and based on units: 1 unit = 1 beat = the length of a dot. The measures can be laid out in the number of units it takes to complete the word or phrase in Morse Code with the 7 unit break between iterations of the word.
Feeling sure that modern composers have explored this idea already, I googled “Morse Code music”. What I found were instances of Morse Code used as drum patterns. The code was always tied to a time signature, so the actual prescribed template for Morse Code is not what is heard. Plugging these patterns into Ableton voices means that the exact Morse Code template is played and preserved in time. This rhythmically offsets the clips, since they are different lengths. I have played with this idea for over a year using different words like love and joy, or om shanti. I did an iteration of “peace” over and over for International Peace Day 2017.
Now it is September 2018, and I am playing off the Peace Day soundscape in preparation for the Wake Forest Dance Festival this coming weekend (9/29/18). Justin Tornow was invited as a guest choreographer. She is creating a solo for dancer Maggie Page Bradley which I will accompany. The sound piece is called PSS – short for Peace Shalom Salam. Each clip is a Morse Code Template of peace or shalom or salam. Each template follows the unit pattern described in the Morse Code description above. Some units are quarter notes and some are eighths, another layer of rhythmic offset. After laying out the templates, I squeezed several of them into smaller time frames (oh, the things you can do in Ableton), thus speeding them up while maintaining the integrity of the Morse Code Template. In addition, I am throwing into this randomness one of my favorite Ableton audio effects called Fade to Grey. This is a high pass and low pass filter that move towards each other and basically squish the sound to nothing, but the addition of a ping pong delay holds a bit of the sound in an echoic pattern. This effect allows the sound to be fractured and reflected in interesting ways. The effect is on every track, so there is the potential to break the sound into multiple glimmering pieces. Here is a short sample of this effect at work:
If you are in Wake Forest close to Joyner Park tomorrow, please come to the Wake Forest Dance Festival. There is an open tech rehearsal in the morning, movement around the park in the afternoon and the dance performances will be from 5-6:30. As always, I appreciate your support!
At the Moogfest Volunteer orientation, we learned that the festival has changed hands, and that Durham is invested in growing Moogfest. I am gladdened to hear this news, and hope that it will be one of a myriad of festivals supported by our civic community. Each year Moogfest moves in different and interesting directions, embracing new venues, and improving their internal protocols. At the same time – it is a business. I hope that the owners prosper (within reason) and grow the festival in responsive and inclusive ways. This year seemed to be moving in that direction.
There truly was something for everyone at Moogfest 2018! One could listen to magnetic frequencies, experience 360 degree sound, hear an original Theremin (built by Theremin himself and recovered from a NC fleamarket.), witness remarkable performances by legendary Midori Takada and Psychic TV, and hear local talent like hifilorau, Trandle, Maille Form at the Roundhaus Stage and The Fruit. Those who sprang for The Engineer pass got to build a cool new synth called a Subharmonicon, which I would love to play with as it focuses on my main interest – harmonics. And the many workshops ranged from the democratization of music to how bacteria talk to each other. I attended a fascinating presentation on representing data as sound, which is a new interest of mine. (I am involved in a project where I will be creating some type of sonification of chemical reactions in fermentation – more on that in the future.) I learned the difference between audification and sonification, which had been a source of confusion. Projects where the data generates the sound are called audification. Projects where the data is represented as sonic information are called sonifications. My desire is to sonify data, so I will be using the resources from this workshop in the near future!
Midori Takada is known for busting through the glass ceiling in 1980s Japanese electronic music with her album, Through The Looking Glass. In Fletcher Theatre, she began with a simple brass singing bowl, moved to an array of cymbals and drums, and played a long set on the marimba. She was amplified and used a delay on some sections of the marimba piece, but was mostly acoustic. She is a consummate performer and knows how to take the stage and hold attention. (A Facebook post inquired about what designer she was wearing. A beautifully sculpted costume.) Later that same evening, I heard Madame Gandhi at Motorco. She could be the fractal repeat of Midori Takada – percussionist, electronic musician, performer and feminist fashionista who connects with the audience while she holds our attention. Both are modes of performance, one more traditional and exclusive, the other exploratory and inclusive. It was intriguing to experience both in the same evening. I look to Madame Gandhi who articulates The Future is Female and whose work is a reclamation of femininity. This girl is one to listen to!
The first morning of Moogfest, I went to the Modular Marketplace to play! The new Moog Grandmother synth was calling my name. This is a semimodular keyboard synthesizer with some cool features of which I only scratched the surface. At the Novation booth, I had great fun with the Circuit and their Peak synth. I shared my experience of playing with the Launchpad ios app with a Novation rep, and requested a live loop feature. He said he would take it to the developers. This year the Marketplace relocated from the Power Plant Boiler Room to Bay 7 at American Tobacco Campus – great decision! – a playground needs wide open space! The Modular Marketplace is a highlight of the festival and is open to the public, no wristband required.
Micheal Stipe was back with another of his dance video projections. Thibault Dance was projected inside and outside the Snow Building on Main Street, tucked away in a sort of hallway. The dance projection was visible from outside the building, but the soundtrack (by Stipe) was only accessible from within. On the way home one night, I popped in there and was glad I did! The dancer explored the energy fields in and around his upper body with very little foot work except weight shifting and slight movements around the space. Gradually, he brought his lower body in more with leg lifts and kicks. Then it was over. I do not remember much about the soundtrack.
Susanne Ciani and Layne and several inidentified Berklee music students performed an original soundtrack for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. This event took place in the A3 360 Sound array in the Durham Armory. The soundtrack made the movie so much more interesting to watch and I was sorry I couldnt see the whole thing. I did manage to capture a most boring screen moment (written text to further the narrative) but you will get what I am saying about the soundscape.
I thought the sound at The Pinhook was stellar on Friday night when Katie Gately and Caterina Barbieri played fantastic sets there. Gately works with vocals and effects pedals, while Barbieri performed a full on Eurorack Modular Synth set. Barbieri’s style was to set up some nice arpeggiations and then mix them all up into a noisy mess before pulling out beautiful strands of sound once again. I enjoy that kind of movement in modular synth sets.
I blame the weather (which was rainy and overcast most of the weekend), but by Saturday afternoon I was done. Too tired to dance at The Fruit, which was a necessary disappointment. I spent Sunday working on the soundscape for Friday’s PROMPTS with Jody Cassell. (She has given me more meaty dialogue with her Mother. What they are processing is phenomenal.) Then we ended the weekend with iBoD’s traditional post-Moogfest soncert at The Bells. This soncert featured Eleanor Mills on the bells, Jim Kellough on digital horn, and Susanne Romey on flutes and recorders. I played the soundscapes, ukelele and psaltry. We had gorgeous weather, an appreciative audience and a generally lovely time stirring up the vibrations! I even managed a few minutes of a live Instagram feed till my phone fell over.
All of this to say, I am looking forward to Moogfest 2019!!
iBoD is back playing in the Sun(Ra) Room with a focus on improved recordings. In addition, we plan to play at the Central Park School Soundgarden on the Sunday evening after Moogfest, May 20. The last time we played there, the request came through for “more bells”. So, this year, the bells will be central to the evening’s soundscapes. So, more bells, y’all! per yer request.
In 2016, in preparation for playing soundscapes in the Soundgarden, I did a detailed analysis of the harmonics of the metal tanks and tank tops that we call “The Bells”. From this came the piece called Adrift in a Sea of Bells, which we played the first post-Moogfest soncert. The dissonance and consonance that The Bells throw out can be sculpted by the soundscape’s sonic character, and the additional frequency forms created by the cohorts. Here is an excerpt from that performance:
We will perform this piece again on May 20th, but I wanted to design a different piece for The Bells. Instead of a sea, we will sound out a large field. This idea was fun to develop- starting with a reexamination of the sonic data from my previous research (for more on this see https://wp.me/p5yJTY-ci ). Two ideas emerged – the field should be low, rumbly, percussive and – the tonailty should be shaped by the tones of the middle pole tanks and tops. These are the ones Eleanor focuses on when she “wakes up The Bells”. I have a recording of Eleanor performing this sonic ritual, so I loaded that clip into an audio channel in Ableton, and looped it. Then I started listening to voices in the Ableton stable. Then I layered in some tones and liked the sound of it!
The fundamental tones of the six tank tops and two short tanks available from the middle post are DEF#G#A. The intervals in this pentatonic scale are 5th, 4th, tritone and minor third. A scale beginning on C and including those intervals is CEbFGbG. In Hewitt’s Musical Scales of the World, this scale is close to the minor blues scale (if we throw in the Bb). Next step, play around with that. The scale patterns being offset by a step creates a tension that is held together by the one common note – the F#|Gb.
The voices and tonalities I choose to play under The Bells tend to be quite dark and heavy. The Bells have a cheery brightness of tone that calls for this buzzy darker undertone as counterpoint. The dissonant character of The Bells is a dominant feature of the soundscape. They go together in this sweet and lovely way. Both Adrift and A Field tug at my stomach and heart! The process is to analyze the sonic spectrum of The Bells and then listen for what goes with that – and this heart- heaving stuff comes out.
Listening to the interplay of bells and electronic voices, I hear the bells encouraging continuous movement. These two balance and catalyze each other! Unfortunately, I do not yet have the live sound equipment or knowledge to convey all of this sonic richness to the world when we perform live. To be heard, The Bells must resound when being played. Subtle gestures do not carry. Eleanor Mills, who is the master player of these bells, must pull alot of sound out of them to be heard when accompanied by iBoD. Ideally, I would mic the bells and all the players into a mixing board and out to three speakers. Perhaps, one year, a person of sound heartitude would step forth. Till then you are stuck with my meager amplification.
In spite of our less than ideal sound setup, we have made some lovely recordings at The Bells. Here is one of Gone Won: Life is a Dream from iBoD’s last soncert at The Bells in August 2017:
Then there is the question of how to audience iBoD?
“Well, we just pull up a chair and watch you, right? You’re going to put on a SHOW, right?”
Well, not exactly. Our ideal audience would probably stroll by, slowly, listening, sit on the steps, look at the sky. Or lie on the ground close by with eyes closed.
Actually, Catherine DeNueve of Beaver Pageant fame, embodied our ideal audience as she strung up a hammock or did walking meditation around the schoolyard. Reclining and strolling are the appropriate audience postures for our soncerts. We are not entertainers, and yet we bring a gift of great vibrancy in the form of these long form soundscapes which we will play for you on
Sunday May 20th
Central Park School Soundgarden (on the hill behind Cocoa Cinnamon.)
photo by Stephanie Leathers
First and foremost, my deep appreciations to you the reader of this sentence. That you take the time to read about and listen to my world means more than I can express. It is my root intention to express my love and appreciation through sound offerings. Every message needs receivers. I am grateful my message has landed with you!
So many ideas for adventures in 2018. Having found my peeps at Moogfest and 919Noise, I intend to show up, be present and listen at more events. There are folks performing sonic works of art out there: Spookstina, Senator Jaiz, 80lb Test, Incidental Exercise and Ty Lake to name a few local sound artists whose work I have enjoyed this year. When the weather warms up, I’ll be out there! Maybe sooner as I want to hear 80lb Test on January 7 at Arcana in Durham. Oh, yes – need some love for the venues that feature sound performances: Nightlight Club, The Cave in Chapel Hill, Arcana in Durham, and Ruby Deluxe in Raleigh. Feel free to add to the list in the comments.
One adventure that will kick off the year is a drone piece I created as part of an exhibit at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh. I am part of a multi-producer team under the guidance of Eban Crawford (Senator Jaiz). Eban is the Audio Engineer for the museum and will mix our drones together for an hour long looping soundtrack for the exhibit. More on this soon!
Justin Tornow’s Company is starting up PROMPTS again on January 27, 2018. dejacusse will perform with Jody Cassell, and possibly solo as well. Looking forward to the return of this performance series to Durham. The prompt is experiment redux. Jody and I have A LOT of material for that PROMPT!
February 16, 2017 Third Friday Durham will feature all 2017 SITES performers at The Durham Hotel. Jody Cassell and I will collaborate and improvise with other dancers and musicians to shine a light on the SITES project. Stephanie Leathers -dancer, photographer and SITES Producer- encourages artists to stage dances and music in unusual locations throughout Durham. The idea is to bring eyes to, and consciously engage with the morphing Durham terrain. SITES is an Independent Weekly dance pick for 2017( https://m.indyweek.com/indyweek/the-top-five-dance-performances-of-2017/Content?oid=10468933).
Human Origami/Audio Origami- movement/sound explorations into the fold as the smallest unit of matter continues. (http://humanorigami.com) Glenna Batson, Susan Halpern and I have been workshopping this project for over two years. I now have some sound pieces for a portfolio of Audio Origami: meditations on the fold, which I will release in 2018 on Bandcamp. I am thrilled that Trudie Kiliru has agreed to create the cover art for the portfolio. I hope you will buy the album when it becomes available.
iBoD is on hiatus as we figure out what we want to do next. We are ditching public performance for now and just gathering to play together in the SunRa Room. We all enjoy this activity. It is sufficient! I hope we will play at Central Park School the Sunday after Moogfest to feature Eleanor Mills on the bells, Susanne Romey on Native American Flute and Jim Kellough on digital horn. Otherwise we will continue to stir up harmonic vibrations in north Durham.
TRIC Questions is still on the table. The idea is to treat the individual patterns of Terry Riley’s In C (TRIC) as rhythmic/melodic samples that can be voiced and placed in a variety of relationships to each other. For me, TRIC is but one way these patterns can be strung together. I want to structure improvisational workshops and create soundscapes using these samples. Terry Riley has listened to my work on this project and given me the go ahead. However, his management has not been responsive. To be continued…
Bill and Susanne Romey are working on a short film highlighting NC waterfalls. Here is a link to (Celestial) Signal Sailors, a fun musical romp with an intergallactic romance, which many local artists worked on a few years ago:
I am privileged to work with them on the soundtrack for the new film.
Novation Launchpad app for IOS has my attention of late. After using the app for SITES, I am working on creating sound clips in Ableton, importing them to Launchpad and sculpting sound. The FX are fantastic for really taking many snippets of sound and spread it, repeat it, echo and really swing and shimmer the harmonics. So my setup for performance is in transition at this time. Another possible addition will be an electroacoustic conversion of my Nanan’s autoharp. I plan to take the chording apparatus off, tune the strings in interesting intervals and apply contact mics. Laaraji who performed the sleep concert at Moogfest last year had two autoharps set up that way to a sweet effect.
From the sounds of it, 2018 may be even more amazing than 2017!
One of the pages attached to this blog is my Artist’s Statement. I believe in intention and evolution, so this statement is a living document for me. I reflect and revise the statement as soundscapes guide me through the world. Last July, I had the opportunity to expand my understanding of a Pauline Oliveros quote that is an integral part of my statement. I thank my dear friend, Theresa Carilli, for helping me clarify what I am saying! (Photo of Pauline Oliveros from media.hyperreal.org)
“Nevertheless, She Transmitted” – The Subtle Activism of Soundscaping
Pauline Oliveros, pioneering electronic musician and Mother of Deep Listening, defines a soundscape as
“All of the waveforms faithfully transmitted to our audio cortex and its mechanisms.”
With this statement, Oliveros calls out all the limitations that we place on inclusiveness, and issues a challenge to both sound artist and listener. This is not an acoustically contained melody in a particular key with carefully cultivated supporting orchestrations. This is not about money, commodity, mastery of instrument, aesthetics, standards of excellence, competition or any other divisive concept decreed from the bully pulpit. This is “All of the waveforms…”, all of the frequencies in the sounding world. All of them! Oliveros envisions inclusiveness as “essential to the process of unlocking layer after layer of imagination, meaning and memory down to the cellular level of human experience.” Her vision offers the soundscape as antidote to patriarchal divide and conquer methodologies that are extremely loud in our current culture. As a sound artist, creating and performing soundscapes with a community of cohorts, it has become my devout intention to take up her challenge to transmit all of the waveforms to audio cortexes everywhere!! How is this to be done? As sound practitioners, how do we “faithfully” transmit all of the wave forms? And as audience members, how can we also “faithfully” receive all of the wave forms?
The challenge in her definition of soundscape is carefully packed in the words “all” and “faithfully”. These two words are intimately connected in this statement. They transform a physiological description into a guiding intention. “All” means striving for inclusion/no exclusions. In order to be “faithful”, one must be fully present. And a powerful path to inclusiveness AND presence for both sound artist and audience member lies in the practice of deep listening with reverent attention to the harmonics/enharmonics, melodies/noises, and rhythms/arrhythms that comprise each sonic moment.
As a presence-practicing soundscape artist, I explore this terrain and bring back markers for accessibility to anyone who wants to give audience to soundscapes.
For many first-time listeners, soundscapes may feel overwhelming and chaotic. Many reject giving audience to soundscapes for this reason. Soundscapes do not give much direction as to what to listen to, so one must listen INTO the soundscape. That is the first adjustment for the listener – stop, breathe, find a friendly line or voice and follow it. The line might be a long meandering phrase or a loop, percussion or melody, foreground or background, fast or slow, loud or soft. It takes a curious desire to hear WHAT? is going on IN THERE! to get past the boredom, fears and defensiveness that often arise when forms are changing in unexpected ways. When the hypercritical, judgemental mind lets go into curious, discerning mind, the listener will discover the pathway inside the soundscape.
Once inside the cave of sound, footholds are both secure and insecure. Like a bird lighting on a branch, the listener does not know if the center will hold, so deep listening provides the wings to move to another branch. We explore the fluid nature of “in time” and “in tune” as we settle into and are disrupted by the soundscape; blips and glitches, fits and starts, followed by a deeper sense of the flow of the scape beyond preconceived ideas of tempo and tonal center.
So soundscapes are these churning, swirling, floating containers, within which my cohorts and I add other voices and textures. I think of the soundscape as a beautiful being and we are the accessories. Another cohort observed that soundscapes are like patchwork quilts. We have a bunch of scraps of sounds and we weave them into a whole. Or the soundscape is an aquarium full of fish swimming and darting around.
The aquarium metaphor is a very helpful template for listening to a soundscape. When you watch an aquarium, your eye may follow one fish for a while until the fish passes another one which grabs your eye. Or one fish may make a sudden move that startles you and so you keep an eye on that fish. In this same way, your ear, if it is sufficiently relaxed and accepting, may hear into parts of the scape or moments of improvisation from the players. Sounds and voices come forward and recede, and your ear, brain and body follow along as you are drawn into this cornucopia of sound.
The cacaphony within a soundscape exists because of the mandate “all of the waveforms.” The soundscape is a dense pallette that moves and morphs through tonal and rhythmic relationships in actual time and in a particular space. Then, as my cohorts and I layer in more waveforms, we create a Nested Soundscape, a permanent recording of the sonic moment folding and unfolding through time and space. Each performance sets rippling frequencies into the atmosphere that are then time stamped onto a recording. Then we offer it to any and all listeners via Soundcloud. This is the transmission process I use at this time.
Adrift in a Sea of Birds is one example of a Nested Soundscape. There is much to hear here – starting with the soundscape itself, which is the catalyst for waveforms in the moment, then the players adding in more waveforms, then the sound of the birds outside the open windows and much more that I leave for you to discover. There are places of beauty and places of disconnect, all of which make up the sonic field of this moment. As players and listeners we honor all contributions to the rich universe of waveforms stirred up by the soundscape.
The act of transmitting all of the waveforms is a practice that challenges me as a sound artist and a listener. It is an action of allowing that is counterpoint to the action of resistance. It is a form of Tai Chi, using energy to create not only new visions, but also little earthquakes in the status quo. The critical mind gets to take a vacation and let go into a listening field that includes all sound. A place where “sounds become interrelated rather than chaotic and meaningless–the field conveys forces (energy) from one sound to another.”
As an active and dedicated transmitter, it is my dream to assist human ears in evolving beyond the codification of common practice, popular music and the calcified ear brain, inviting listeners to open ears as they open eyes and take in a broad spectrum of colors, textures, movements. Learning to listen to soundscapes is an act of allowing that can lead to shifts in consciousness and in the corporeal world. As Oliveros sees it, this sort of listening practice “is the foundation for a radically transformed social matrix in which compassion and love are the core motivating principles guiding creative decision making and our actions in the world.”
Just for a while, disengage from the notions and expectations of prescribed and habitual forms and allow yourself to enjoy the dance of formlessness to form to formlessness. This simple action could awaken an entirely new sense of your self and your world!
Reference: All quotes from Pauline Oliveros in “Quantum Listening: From Practice to Theory (to Practice Practice)” Music Works Issue #76 (Spring 2000)